Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"The train on platform 1 will leave 20 minutes early"

Last night Alexander, Eliza and Mary Waugh and myself went and had a fantastic Indian seafood dinner on their last night in Bangalore before they went back to the UK and I finally left Bangalore to go back to work in Vellore. Their last truly Indian epxerience, before their flight home at an unbelievably antisocial hour was, at Mary's request, to take a rickshaw back to their Hotel.

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As for myself, I was booked on the 8.30 Bangalore-Chennai train which was supposed to arrive at the station I boarded on, Cantonment, at about 8.50. Arun is always quite relaxed about catching public transport so I was agitating to leave, knowing what Bangalore traffic can be like. Initially we couldn't find a rickshaw, so I, and 2 large suitcases (1 rucksack of 2 weeks worth of holiday clothes and 1 bag full of Christmas presents) wove off sitting behind Arun on his bike. As he is quite "compact" and the passenger seat on the bike - he has upgraded from his scooter to a 150cc motorbike - is perched above the driver's, he must have looked like a mahout sitting in front of an overloaded Howdah in which wobbled a plentiful memsahib. The passing commuters certainly thought it was funny. Luckily, after about 5 minutes we found a rickshaw, I and my baggage decamped into it and we carried on in convoy. Unfortunately, Arun and the rickshaw driver violently disagreed as to the best way to the station and conducted a flaming row between themselves whilst negotiating the rush hour traffic. The rickshaw driver turned out to be right and we arrived at the station at 8.28 just as the train pulled in, 2 minutes before it was supposed to be leaving the main station. I have never been on a train in India which arrived on time, usually they are 15-20 minutes late, but arriving 20 minutes early is definitely a first and could only happen in this country.

As the train pulled in, we saw, tucked just behind the engine, my carriage. Indian trains are usually 20 carriages long and as the entrance to the platform is halfway along, we had to walk up 10 carriages top get to my seat. We arrived at carraige number 6 just as the train began gently pulling off. Arun handed me my bag and we bid a hasty goodbye as I scrambled onto the train, 4 carriages away from the one I was supposed to be in. Negotiating, with 2 large bags and one large person, the narrow corridor, filled with saried knees, playing children, sacks of rice, streams of hawkers selling everything from "bread omelette" (omelette sandwich) to "joos, joos, joos" (fruit squash) to little concertinas on a stick which squeak when you hit someone with them (who do they sell those to?), was exhausting. When I reached the car I thought was mine, I sank gratefully, glowing with effort, into a seat. It then became clear that I had one more carriage to go. The conductor was sitting nearby so I went and asked him if I could stay in this carriage (C2) instead of the correct one (C1) as my bags were heavy and I was exhausted.
He wobbled at me. "No problem," he said. "You can just carry bags through."
"No, no," I said. "Can I stay here?"
"Yes, yes," he said. "Carriage just through there."
"No, NO," I said, becoming increasingly more frantic, re-enacting as I did so the ordeal of carrying my heavy bags, sweating, puffing and panting throught the carriages and miming my iminent state of collapse if I had to go any further and then, for a dramatic finale, pointing in desperate relief at the nearest seat. Judging by the audience reaction, which by now included the entire carriage, had there been an Emmy for "Best Comedy-Drama on Indian Rail", I would have won it.

Still, I got to stay where I was and, like all one-hit wonders, sank into blissful obscurity for the remainder of the trip.

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